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Friday, February 5, 1999 Published at 14:38 GMT

Carling set for shock comeback

Will Carling - will he be thrown in at the deep end?

Former England captain Will Carling could find himself in action against league leaders Leicester just three days after announcing his return to rugby with Harlequins.

The 33-year-old centre was expected to spend several weeks improving his fitness after 13 months out of the game but is set for a place on the replacements bench.

"Will has convinced us on the training pitch this week that he will let nobody down if he needs to go on. Our selections are in the best interests of Harlequins," said team manager John Gallagher.

Carling knows there is no question of Leicester 'going easy' on him as he tries to adjust to the demands of the Premiership, but is ready to take whatever knocks come his way.

"I am prepared to take the hits. After so long in the game, I know the score," he said.

"I am flattered that John Gallagher and our coach Zinzan Brooke have asked me to return and if they think I can still perform well at this level, then I gain confidence from their assessment."

[ image: Pears: Won four England caps]
Pears: Won four England caps
There will be another old familiar face in the Quins squad with David Pears recalled from Wharfedale.

Pears, whose carer has been blighted by a series of injuries, has been in excellent kicking form recently and has been recalled in the absence of Thierry Lacroix and Rob Liley.

Leicester welcome back Darren Garforth at tight-head, with England teammate Graham Rowntree moving to the other side of the front row. Derek Jelley reverts to the bench.

Northampton are just two points behind Leicester but need a victory over Saracens to lift their spirits after home defeats by London Irish in league and cup last month.

"This is a key game, but with league matches being so spasmodic now while the cup and Five Nations are on, I don't think the title will be absolutely decided in this winter period," said Saints coach Ian McGeechan.

[ image: Rodber: Badly missed in cup clash]
Rodber: Badly missed in cup clash
England forward Tim Rodber facesa a fitness check after missing the cup game against the Irish exiles with a rib injury.

Richard Metcalfe will fly back from duty with the Scotland A team in time for the game, but Craig Moir and Mattie Stewart are absent.

Saracens have been focused on the cup and friendlies against Cardiff and Swansea in the past month, but are eager to resume their league programme.

"Tomorrow is a tremendously important game for both us and Northampton. One of us must maintain the pursuit of Leicester," said rugby director Mark Evans.

They must manage without Irish internationals Paddy Johns and Paul Wallace and Roberto Grau, who aggravated a neck injury against Lydney last weekend and could be out for up to three weeks.

Sale take on London Scottish with club captain Jim Mallinder making his 250th appearance. He takes over from Shane Howarth, who is playing for Wales.

Scottish have nine men out due to illness or international calls, with Jannie de Beer and Kenny Milligan the only regular first-teamers in the backs.

Damian Rudham and Magnus MacDonald join skipper Paul Johnston in the front row.

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